History and Heritage of Port Fairy

History and Heritage of Port Fairy

I am a trip back in time on a brand new day. Where maritime mystery ripples through the sea and the river and into the streets. Tap into the past and imagine a simpler life centred on the harbour and bustling fishing fleet.

Traditional Custodians Gunditjmara

The First Nations People of south-western Victoria were the Eastern Maar Peoples which included the Peek Whurrong tribe. Their land extends as far north as Ararat and encompasses the Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Great Ocean Road areas. It also stretches 100m out to sea from low tide and therefore includes the iconic Twelve Apostles. Port Fairy is within this clan territory of Dhauwurd Wurrung, also known as the Gunditjmara.

The Gunditjmara peoples have called the lands around Port Fairy home for many thousands of years, from the time the now-dormant volcano Budj Bim was erupting, to the present day. Gunditjmara people are traditionally river and lake people and the surrounding river systems are of great cultural significance and importance historically, economically and spiritually. First contact, between the coastal Gunditjmara people and European settlers and whalers, who came from Tasmania, occurred in the 1830s. Initially, relations appear to have been good, but deteriorated as pastoral activities encroached on traditional lands. It was during this period and shortly after that conflict between the European settlers and the Gunditjmara peoples took place.


19th Century Shipping Port

Today Port Fairy is a well preserved 19th century shipping port, where history can be seen at every turn.  

At the mouth of the old port, on the estuary of the River Moyne, lies Griffiths Island.  The Island was named after John Griffiths, who established Port Fairy’s whaling industry on the island in the 1830’s. Since then the island has been an Aboriginal mission, a quarry, a shipbuilding site and a prime location for a lighthouse. The island is now home to a number of small swamp wallabies and a large colony of 15,000 short-tailed shearwaters, known as Mutton Birds. The birds arrive in late-September after an amazing migratory flight from the northern Pacific and stay until mid-April. They can be seen at dusk returning to their burrows. 

Visitors can explore the island (connected to the mainland by a causeway) and enjoy a circuit walk that takes you out to the historic lighthouse. Discover more information on the island here

There's something in the water

For many coastal towns the water is their focal point and life blood. Port Fairy certainly fits this bill. 

The meandering Moyne River begins in western Victoria and runs out to meet the sea at Port Fairy. The river provides a safe anchorage for the commercial fishing fleet and pleasure boats jostle for space in the small marina. The river has served as a vital transport link since the 1850s, bringing supplies to the town. 

Although the river mouth is safe and sheltered, Victoria’s coastline can be quite treacherous. The winds from the south west push vessels northward toward land and in the days of large sailing ships, excellent navigation skills were required. 

Unfortunately, not all ships made it to port safely and there are at least 29 wrecks in the immediate area. The Thistle which brought many pastoral settlers to Victoria, wrecked on Christmas Day 1837. The hull of boat can still be seen protruding from the sand when the tide and wind are just right. 

The waters around Port Fairy abound with many varieties of fish, such as whiting, snapper, bream, salmon and brown trout. Calling the waters home are the Australian Fur Seals who reside primarily on Deen Maar (Lady Julia Percy ) Island to the west of Port Fairy and the majestic Southern Right Whales who migrate along the coast during the winter months (June — October) and can sometimes be seen off East Beach. 

Visitors love the sheltered waters of the bay and enjoy the family friendly swimming beaches of Pea Soup Cove and East Beach and the nearby surf breaks. Discover out more about our local beaches here

Accommodation Nearby

Things To Do Nearby

Places To Eat & Drink

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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.